An Unhealthy Family Deal

Joseph and his siblings are considering buying an unfinished cabin from his parents. The siblings would take a loan together after a year. Dave tells Joseph this deal is completely unhealthy.

QUESTION: Joseph in Las Vegas and his siblings are considering buying an unfinished cabin from his parents. His parents are unable to finish it due to finances, and they want each of the children to put in $100 a month toward the cabin fund for a year. The siblings would take a loan together after a year. Dave tells Joseph this deal is completely unhealthy.

ANSWER: I’m going to tell you what you know in your heart and that no one in your family wants to admit, and it’s going to be very unpopular with your family.

Your parents have gone broke, and they’ve lost their lake home. You guys are artificially trying to prop up something here in a way that is so unhealthy, that is going to create so many problems, because you’re trying to keep their hearts from being broken by this, and you’re trying to preserve the memories of the things that have happened. Those are sweet motivations, but you’re creating such a toxic future for your family that it’s unbelievable. This is very unhealthy. It’s a very bad idea.

I think this thing has come to a close, and you guys need to let it die. You’re trying to keep the patient alive, and it’s not fair to the patient. This is a do-not-resuscitate order.

It’s so hard because we’ve got a lake house, and our kids have grown up there skiing, and we love the place. For that not to be in our family would be a tough thing. There’s legitimacy to the emotions that are driving this. It doesn’t mean it’s taking you to a legitimate place though. I think you guys are getting ready to enter into family hell.

The level of desperation and grasping and clawing to keep this together that your family is engaged in—it’s like they’re out of breath—like they’re hyperventilating. That’s how stupid this is. That’s what it looks like. The motivations aren’t stupid. They’re very pure, and they’re very good motivations. I totally understand, and I agree with the motivations. I just think they’re taking you guys to a really bad place. I wouldn’t wish 10 years from now—if you guys do this—the crap you’re going to have on anybody. Somebody’s going to get cancer and die and not have life insurance. Somebody’s going to get a divorce. Somebody’s kid’s going to want to go to an expensive college, and they want out of the deal. Out of six people, that’s only three of them.

Sell it. You’re not in a place to do real estate investing. All of you are broke. If I were in your shoes, if they came in and sat down with me for counseling, I would tell them with tears running down my face to sell it. I would be done with it. I would take my $500,000 and go start the memories that are the future.

Memories are memories. A place is a place. Some things are worth really, really fighting for in a healthy way. This is worth fighting for in a healthy way, but none of you have any money. Consequently, when you all enter into this deal together, somebody’s not going to carry their weight. Somebody’s wife or husband is going to be ticked off all the time about who didn’t cut the grass and Little Johnny fixed the roof and then he couldn’t get to stay there next weekend. I can just write the script. It’s going to be bad, and that’s where you’re going. It all goes back to you’re trying to preserve something that its season has come to a close. Let it go. Sell it. It’s what I would do if I were in your shoes.

My grandparents passed away, and the property they were living on had been in the family for a generation and a half. The memories of home baked goods and the smell of that kitchen ... I still drive by there many years later, and I can smell them from the curb, it feels like. But that property is no longer in our family, and that’s because that season came to a close, and it should have. It was a good thing that it did.